Friday, November 19, 2021

Facilitating Complex Problem Solving in a Crisis

Source: Sioux Land News

Recently, I moderated a lively discussion in which a group of executives compared and contrasted the problem solving and communication of two flight crews:  Air France 447, which crashed in 2009 and killed everyone on board, and United 232, which crash landed in 1989.   The latter flight tragically led to many deaths as well.  However, the crew did a remarkable job of bringing the plane to the ground, saving 184 lives.   Many experts credit Captain Al Haynes for his steady hand leading the crew as it landed the plane after a catastrophic engine failure.   

What did Captain Haynes and his crew do so effectively as compared to the Air France team?  Most experts point to the way that the crew members communicated with one another.   Haynes notes that they utilized their crew resource management training highly successfully.  What were the hallmarks of Haynes' leadership during this crisis?

  1. He made it psychologically safe for everyone to contribute to the discussion.  No one, including Haynes himself, was afraid to say, "I don't know" and to seek help from others.
  2. Haynes and his crew members "thought out loud" as they engaged in problem solving.  In so doing, they all developed a strong shared situational awareness.  They got on the same page quickly. 
  3. Haynes and his crew repeatedly sought to confirm their understanding of each other's statements and conclusions.  They played back what they heard and asked if that was accurately understood.  They asked questions to clarify.  
  4. Haynes insured that people understood their roles and responsibilities clearly.  In flight emergencies in the past, confusion can occur when everyone is focused on the crisis and no one is "flying the plane."  To some extent, that occurred on the Air France flight.   On the United flight, Haynes insured that someone was focused on continuing to fly the plane, while others tried to diagnose the problem and find a way to land the plane.  
  5. Haynes didn't assume he had all the answers.  He was modest, and he recognized and acknowledged his own limits.  In so doing, he marshalled the collective intellect of the team.  

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